It won't count on anyone's record, but Friday's boys basketball endowment game between Service and Anchorage Christian was the closest thing to a state title game high school fans will see this time of year.
The Alaska Association of Basketball Coaches ranks Service as the top Class 4A team and ACS as the top Class 3A team in the state. Both teams finished runner-up in their respective state tournaments last season and both are on track to make another run at a state title.
Service prevailed, beating the Lions 68-59 in a game that was neck and neck until early in the fourth quarter. Service led 50-48 with just more than six minutes remaining, but stretched its lead to 10 with an 8-0 run that ended with a fast-break layup from Irho Raguindin (14 points) with 4:30 left.
"I love playing them," Raguindin said. "They play with so much intensity. They have a lot of great players and it's great for us to match up to them."
Raguindin and Marques Robinson came up big down the stretch for Service, accounting for 16 of the team's 20 fourth-quarter points. Robinson scored 10 of his team-high 23 in the final frame.
"It means a lot, because when we played 'em (earlier this season), they kinda beat us here, so we had a little chip on our shoulder and we've been practicing hard all week, trying to show what we can do and that we didn't forget the loss," Robinson said.
Friday's game was the last of two meetings between ACS and Service this season. The Lions won a November meeting by one point.
The turning point in Friday's game came when ACS starting point guard Calvin Hoffman fouled out early in the final period. Without Hoffman, the offense became noticeably less organized and the Lions lost a lot of steam.
"Of course the energy is going to fall when one of your best people are out," said Gus Simmers, who led the Lions with 23 points. "He's the spiritual leader on the team."
Hoffman finished with 15 points, making four first-half 3-pointers to help forge a 33-33 tie at halftime. He went to the bench with a fourth foul with 4:18 left in the third period and the Lions trailing 39-38. When Hoffman returned to start the fourth quarter, Service led 48-41.
ACS began the last period with two unanswered buckets to cut it to 48-45, but Hoffman fouled out 59 seconds into the period.
"I'll take the blame for that," Hoffman said. "I played too aggressive. I just gotta be paying attention."
The referees weren't calling the game tight, but they weren't calling it loosely either, Hoffman said, and he found it difficult to gauge how aggressively he could play.
"My last one, even though I felt like I was there, I gotta know I got four fouls and it can go either way and I gotta just know my position and what I gotta accomplish."
Amu Aukusitino, a standout guard for Service, missed the game because he's at a football camp. ACS coach Ron Hoffman said he was disappointed not to play Service at full strength, but didn't think Aukusitino's absence necessarily changed the outcome of the game.
Some of the Lions' toughest tests come in endowment games, which are in essence exhibition games. They allow teams to play more games than the season limit set by the Alaska School Activities Association; ASAA gets $200 from the school hosting an endowment game for its Alaska Endowment for Youth Activities fund.
Ron Hoffman said the team always looks forward to chances to test its game against quality opponents. The Lions will host Monroe in an endowment game Feb. 2, a rematch of the last two Class 3A state title games. ACS took the 2011 title and Monroe won last year's.
"I think Monroe is the best team in the state, 3A," Hoffman said. "(Frank) Ostanik will have his boys ready, I can promise you that. I'm excited."
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.